State-mandated Standardized tests, when used as a primary measure of student
success, are as damaging to schools
as they are to student
s. A student
can run into problems due to poor test grades, but he or she can recover in college
. However, a school district
marked as failing may never recover.
This is not due to any inherent flaw in the tests themselves; it is due to the way the tests are used. Instead of using the tests to judge where students are and what needs improvement, tests are often used to judge the success or failure of a district. However, the tests are wholely inadequate for this task, because of the number of variables at play. Lets look at an example:
In my home state of Ohio, the state Proficiency Tests were used until very recently. Students took these tests every few years in Math, English, Science and Social Studies. Students who failed could be prevented form graduation whatever school they were in (elementary, middle or high school). However, the school district was also graded, and depending on how many sections sufficeint numbers of students passed, the district would be rated. These ratings could be used to determine funding and the level of autonomy districts were allowed by the state - if they did poorly, the state took over the district. Unfortunately, no effort was made to correct the scores for the circumstances surrounding the schools. This resulted in an obvious problem; regardless of the quality of the teachers, schools and resources available, schools in richer areas scored better and schools in poor areas did worse. In addition, districts with largeminority populations tended to do worse, because in Ohio minorities make are disproportionately poor.
My district had a lot going for it - nationally renowned fine arts programs, a well-developed and effective program for gifted students and many well-educated and a few nationally recognized teachers. Did the district do well? No. We had the geographic disadvantage of bordering Cleveland.
Our district was so good that students from the innercity and other, poorer inner-ring suburbs to go to our schools. Every year the Central Office would discover dozens of students fraudulently attending the school. This dragged down our scores.
Regardless of this disadvantage, we still did well. Our Caucasian students and minority students both scored better than the state average and comparably to the top districts in the state. However, we still did not score well and, as a result, placed in the category of "academic watch." Parents and community members saw this and did not bother to ask many questions - if the state said so, it must be true. As a result, the district finds it difficult now to pass school levies because parents are not satisfied that it is doing a good job, despite the fact that closer examination of the scores would reveal that we are doing quite well.
The biggest problem that arose was the tendency to use the test as the sole measure of the district when it could not possibly do so effectively. Expecting a school district to instantly raise any student transfering into the district to state standards, regardless of that student's previous performance, is foolish. However, the grace periods allowed schools to bring students up to speed are ridiculously short. In addition, the effects of the district's population is ignored, despite the fact that it may well be more impressive for an inner-city school to teach all of its student to read at grade level than it would be for a wealty private school to have all of its students score 1600s on their SATs.
Standardized tests have their place - for example, they can be used to get a rough estimate of a student's ability and can help identify problem areas. However, they are rarely used in this way.
What a standardized test cannot do is serve as the sole, final judge of anything. Standardized tests can produce skewed results, be misleading or be flat-out wrong. However, they are easier than doing effective assessments, so they are used.